Classic card: Rookie Thome

December 8th, 2021

As part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, we've asked fans (as well as our staff) to submit their all-time favorite baseball cards, and we've broken them down by team. We'll be revealing submissions regularly throughout the season, ranging from the famous to the weird, and everything in between.

Iconic Cleveland rookie card: Jim Thome, 1991 Bowman

In the Hall of Fame slugger's rookie card, Thome stands with a slight smile on his face, and he has a bat perched on his shoulder with a sunlit field as the backdrop. It's a simple card, but a good-looking one.

Thome would debut for Cleveland in '91 just after his 21st birthday. Over the next 12 seasons in Cleveland, he'd crush 334 home runs, make three All-Star teams, win a Silver Slugger Award and take the team on six playoff runs.

His Cleveland tenure made up the majority of a 22-year career in which Thome hit 612 home runs en route to his place in Cooperstown.

Julio Franco, 1987 Topps

Franco had one of the most iconic batting stances in MLB history, with his knees bent inward and his bat pointed directly at the pitcher. He was a marvel who stuck around in the Majors until he was 49 years old.

Topps did a great job of capturing the intricacies of Franco’s stance on his ‘87 card, which was submitted by Douglas Montoya of Beaumont, Calif.

“My favorite Topps baseball card of all time is this Julio Franco card from 1987,” Montoya wrote. “I love the wooden borders, and it captures the greatest stance ever in Major League Baseball. This card made me fall in love with the Cleveland Indians and made Julio Franco my favorite player of all time. It changed my life so much that I followed him to the Texas Rangers, [who are] still my current favorite team.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome -- 1993 Upper Deck

They may never have won it all, but they took a club that was consistently in the division cellar and led it to two American League pennants in three years from 1995-97. And these men were at the heart of the lineup. 

Belle was coming off his best season at the plate to that point in his career, Lofton had just stolen an AL-best 66 bases in the prior season, Baerga just got done delivering 205 hits and 105 RBIs, Alomar was already a three-time All-Star, and Thome was on the cusp of stardom as one of the game’s greatest sluggers.

Why no Manny Ramirez, you ask? This was the year Manny would make his Major League debut. Before long, it was “Manny Being Manny” in Cleveland.

“"Youthful Tribe’ It's a common card with five (then) future All Stars pictured,” wrote Joel P. of Orrville, Ohio, who submitted this card in response to our survey. “As an Indians fan who grew up in the ’90s, I love this picture of five of the greatest Indians players of the 1990s. I came across this card last summer at my local sports card store. I happily paid 30 cents for it, just because of the memories attached to the picture on the card.” -- Manny Randhawa

Best Cleveland facial hair card: Doug Jones, 1988 Topps

In addition to ranking third on Cleveland's all-time leaderboard in saves (129), Jones had one of the best mustaches in franchise history.

Jones’ card from the ‘88 Topps set provides a great look at the walrus ‘stache he sported for much of his 16-year career. It was submitted by Phil Komaransky, who had the card on him when he bumped into the reliever outside Municipal Stadium.

“I had it signed ... in 1989 at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland,” Komaransky wrote. “We hung around after everyone left, and I saw Doug Jones leaning against a tree outside the stadium. … I was about 14 at the time. It was a big thrill.”

Jones spent more time with Cleveland than any other team, playing seven seasons with the club. Although he didn’t record his first save until after his 29th birthday, Jones pitched until he was 43 and saved 303 games as a big leaguer. -- Thomas Harrigan

Minnie Minoso, Rocky Colavito and Larry Doby, 1959 Topps

Any time you have anything baseball-related named “Destruction Crew,” you can bet it has to do with sluggers. And that is the case for this gem that features three of the best hitters Cleveland’s lineup boasted in the late 1950s.

Minnie Minoso, Rocky Colavito and Larry Doby were only together in that lineup for a brief period from 1958-59, but this crew did some damage. Over those two seasons, Minoso posted an .856 OPS with 45 home runs, Colavito slugged .561 with 83 homers, and while he was nearing the end of his career, Doby belted 13 homers in 89 games with an .838 OPS in ’58.

“All were great ambassadors of the game and possibly the greatest outfield combination of the 1950s,” wrote Fred G. from Marquette, Michigan, in his survey response. “Each time I look at the card it brings back exciting memories of seeing each of them perform at the peak of their amazing careers and reminds me of why I love baseball!”

Minoso spent most of his career with the White Sox and was a nine-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field. Colavito was also a nine-time All-Star and slugged 374 career homers. And Doby was the first Black player to play in the American League after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Doby was an All-Star in seven of his 13 Major League seasons, and he hit .318 with a home run to help Cleveland win the 1948 World Series. -- Manny Randhawa

Iconic Cleveland card: Cliff Lee, 2003 Topps

Lee's rookie card features the young left-hander, who made his Major League debut for Cleveland in 2002 just after his 24th birthday, standing in the set position, ball in glove, glaring out of the frame at some imagined hitter.

In a few years, he'd break out with an 18-5 season in 2005 and finish fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. A few years after that, he'd win the award by going 22-3 with a league-leading 2.54 ERA in 2008.

But back to the card. It's a simple design, yet the bold colors and contrasts make it look great. The blue and red of the card border, matching Lee's Cleveland uniform, plus the gold first-year player emblem stamped on the bottom right. And in the photo itself, the blue sky, green grass in the background, and the black and gold of Lee's Wilson glove.

All in all, a crisp, clean card of Cleveland's future ace.

Al Rosen, 1953 Bowman

Bowman went above and beyond to put out a memorable card set in ‘53, releasing the first set of current Major Leaguers that featured actual color photography. In fact, the front of the cards includes only the vibrant photos, no team or player names.

Rosen’s card from this set was submitted by Jed Thorp of Fostoria, Ohio, who wrote:

“The 1953 Bowman series are among the most beautiful cards ever produced with large full-color photos. Most of the pictures were shot in New York, and the photo on this card was shot at Yankee Stadium before what must have been an important road game between my beloved Indians and their rival Yankees. It’s a beautiful picture of a young handsome Al Rosen during his MVP season, and captures a golden era in Cleveland baseball history.”

Rosen was one of the top players in the game for a short time, but injuries caused the end of his career after his age-32 season in ‘56. The third baseman was named the American League MVP in ‘53 after hitting .336 with 43 homers and 145 RBIs, and he helped Cleveland reach the World Series the following season. -- Thomas Harrigan

Oscar Gamble, 1975 Topps

If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to memorable Major League Baseball hairstyles, Gamble’s giant afro would be a strong contender to make the cut.

Gamble’s 1976 Topps card, which depicted the outfielder with the Yankees, is undoubtedly his most famous. But Cleveland fans might prefer the '75 version, which also captures Gamble’s afro in all its glory, spilling out from beneath a Cleveland cap.

Jack Efta, who spent 40 years with Cleveland as an umpires-room attendant, submitted Gamble’s 1975 card as his all-time favorite.

“Without a doubt one of the best ‘do’s’ in baseball history,” Efta wrote.

It was also submitted by fan Jerry DiCarro, who wrote:

“I remember getting this card as a youth thinking he was wearing Mickey Mouse ears.”

Gamble spent three seasons with the Tribe, hitting .274 with 54 homers and an .815 OPS (131 OPS+) in 369 games before being traded to the Yankees for right-hander Pat Dobson in 1975.

Manny Ramirez, 1996 Fleer

Ramirez was a hero for the Red Sox, helping them win their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, but he rose to prominence as one of the most feared right-handed sluggers in the game while with Cleveland from 1993-2000. His breakout season came in '95, when he posted a .960 OPS with 31 homers to help Cleveland reach the World Series.

From there, Ramirez never looked back. In his remaining five seasons with Cleveland, he hit .322/.416/.611 with 186 home runs. He continued his prodigious production with Boston, but this Fleer card from '96 captures Manny as a young, rising star. It features an All-Star Game patch on his sleeve -- in '95, Ramirez earned the first of 12 career All-Star selections.

Rocky Colavito and Tito Francona, 1960 Topps

This dual card depicting both Colavito and Francona -- dubbed “Power Plus” by Topps after Colavito hit 42 homers and Francona posted a .363 average with 20 homers for Cleveland in 1959 -- was submitted by multiple fans.

"As a young Indians fan of Italian heritage growing up in northeast Ohio, there was no way that Rocky Colavito and Tito Franconia wouldn’t be my favorites,” wrote Mark Fiorino, who now resides in Calabash, N.C. “When I got this card in a baseball pack, I knew it would be important to me for the rest of my life. I had it mounted about 25 years ago and it hangs in my bedroom.”

“My two heroes on one card!” wrote Paul Noel of Vermilion, Ohio.

Unfortunately for Fiorino and Noel, Cleveland broke up the duo prior to the 1960 season, trading Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. -- Thomas Harrigan

Mike Napoli, 2016 Topps NOW

For the 2016 Cleveland club, much of the season was a "Party at Napoli's." The T-shirts were made up, the slogan caught on quickly and it became a rally refrain for Cleveland as it got all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Though Cleveland lost that game to the Cubs, the season was one to remember, thanks partly to Napoli's slogan and performance at the plate.

Napoli launched 34 homers and drove in 101 runs to help Cleveland win the AL Central title and make as deep a run in the postseason as you can make without winning it all.

"The Tribe’s rally cry in the 2016 postseason chase was 'Party at Napoli’s,'" wrote Chuck H. of Orlando, Fla., "and Topps NOW made an autograph version with the phrase recorded for posterity."

That's what's so great about the Topps NOW brand -- it captures the great moments for posterity. And this one was an autograph insert on top of all that. -- Manny Randhawa

Rajai Davis, 2016 Topps NOW

This card was printed right after one of the most memorable home runs in recent postseason history -- Davis' game-tying homer in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

On the card, an exuberant Davis rounds the bases with his hand in the air, after taking flamethrowing Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman deep to left field in Cleveland.

Graig Nettles, 1971 Topps

Nettles appeared in parts of 22 seasons from 1967-88, playing for six teams. The third baseman’s three years with Cleveland were when he really blossomed into a big league regular, but the club traded him to the Yankees after the 1972 campaign in a six-player deal.

Nettles made five All-Star teams and won two Gold Glove Awards during his 11 seasons with the Yankees and was part of two World Series title-winning teams.

Seeing Nettles get dealt to the Yankees was a tough beat for young Craig Fullerton of Mogadore, Ohio, who submitted the third baseman’s 1971 Topps card in our survey.

“My favorite baseball card is the 1971 Topps Graig Nettles,” Fullerton wrote. “The Indians were/are my favorite team when I fell in love with baseball as a 6-year-old. The following year, the Tribe began a long history of breaking my heart by trading Nettles to the Evil Empire.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Ray Fosse, 1971 Topps

Fosse, who recently stepped away from his longtime color commentary role with the A's to focus on a battle with cancer he has been silently fighting for 16 years, was an All-Star catcher for Cleveland before winning a pair of World Series titles with Oakland in 1973 and '74.

In his first full season behind the plate for the Tribe, Fosse hit .307/.361/.469 in his age-23 campaign. He earned the first of two straight All-Star selections with that 1970 performance, and this Topps card is from '71. Fosse also won two straight Gold Glove Awards behind the plate in those years.

Fosse is famously known for a collision at home plate with Pete Rose during the 1970 All-Star game -- Rose crashed into Fosse for the winning run at Three Rivers Stadium, resulting in a fractured and dislocated shoulder that affected the rest of his career.

Pat D. of St. Louis remembers that moment well, but it didn't diminish his admiration for Fosse.

"It was in 1971 at the age of 10 that I really fell in love with baseball," he wrote. "My parents took my sister and me to our first Cardinals games that summer and Dad bought me my first package of Topps Baseball Cards and I was hooked forever! I've collected Topps cards exclusively every year since, but my favorite set overall remains that 1971 design with the black border, team nickname emblazoned across the top in big, bold letters, the players' name and position in lowercase letters underneath and the faux player autograph on the photo. Simple and understated, yet powerful!

"My favorite card from that set and still my favorite to this day was the Ray Fosse card. You see, I was a catcher myself and I loved the shot of him kneeling in front of the dugout with his chest protector on, strapping on his shin guards. He also had this tough look on his face. That card really resonated with me and although Fosse's career did not turn out to be as memorable as its first few years promised thanks to his shoulder injury in the home-plate collision with Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game, he will always hold a fond place in my mind and heart because of that card!" -- Manny Randhawa

'90s throwback: Jim Thome, 1997 Score Goin' Yard

These "Goin' Yard" cards were a '90s staple from Score, paying tribute to the game's biggest sluggers.

Thome's 1997 version features the Tribe lefty watching one of his home runs fly out of the yard following a powerful swing. Thome crushed 40 homers in '97, his first career 40-homer season, and helped lead Cleveland to a World Series appearance.

Herb Score, 1956 Topps

From an aesthetic standpoint, it doesn’t get much better than Topps’ star-studded 1956 set.

The set included Score’s rookie card, which was submitted in our survey by Pennsylvania’s David Skeel. Score was hampered by injuries for much of his career, but his first two seasons were outstanding, as the left-hander led the Majors in strikeouts in each year and posted a 2.68 ERA. Although Score's excellence didn't last, his rookie card was a big deal at the time, and it still holds significance for Skeel.

“I was 8 years old when I collected this card,” Skeel wrote. “Of course, I was a Cleveland Indians fan! The 1956 card year, and this card in particular are beautiful on so many levels. The front of the 1956 card combined a player close-up, a field action background, an autograph, and a colorful two-tone block for the player name, position, and team.

“I will always cherish the memory as an innocent young boy, feeling the untainted joy I did then, when I first held that Score card in my hand.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Roger Maris, 1958 Topps

He’ll forever be remembered most, of course, for his incredible 1961 season with the Yankees, in which he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record by launching 61. But Maris’ MLB journey began with Cleveland in 1957. He played for Cleveland in 1957 and ’58 before being traded to the Kansas City A’s. A year later, he was a Yankee, on the cusp of making history.

Stephen A. of Grand Prairie, Texas, submitted this card in our survey. It means the world to him and the story behind it spans three generations.

“I remember being especially pleased to have his card as a 12-year-old boy growing up in Houston in 1958,” Stephen wrote. “Roger Maris was my first ‘favorite player.’ I followed his career as much as I could from a distance, and with limited information sources in those days, especially after he was traded to the New York Yankees. Still, though, the only times I saw him play were when the Yankees were on the Saturday TV games.

“Although I didn't have a large number of them, somehow my 1958 cards were separated from the rest of my collection and disappeared. That included the Roger Maris, the only player I specifically remember having from 1958. Fast-forward more than 60 years, through the years of growing up and older, when the physical and spiritual concerns of life and family became important. But baseball was always there. From my sweet young wife trundling our infant and toddler daughters to church softball games where I played (not very well), to taking our daughters and later also our son to baseball games in the Astrodome, to our son becoming a baseball fan and card collector himself (which maybe he will pass along to his young son), to one of our daughters also having a son, now 12 years old himself, who is an avid baseball fan, player, and card collector.

About a year ago our grandson was given several hundred baseball cards, mostly from the late 1950s, by his other grandfather, whose family had had them stored away all these years. Not long after, when our daughter and her family came over to our house, our son-in-law and grandson brought the cards and asked me to look through them to help find those that might be special. As I shuffled through the cards, suddenly I found myself looking at a 1958 Topps Roger Maris. I just looked at it for a second or two, and then a smile came. I held it out and told them part of the story I related above. When we were finished, they decided I should have that card. I protested, but they insisted. I was thrilled. So, there are now memories and a connection through that card across three generations. Priceless.”

Priceless, indeed. -- Manny Randhawa

Phil Niekro, 1987 Topps

Niekro played 24 seasons in the Majors, and this was the last of them -- the Hall of Fame knuckleballer was 48 years old in 1987, when this card was made.

Young fan Ian Corsi of Hilliard, Ohio, sent in the card, autographed by Niekro, along with a story.

"It was the first non-football card I ever got signed, and I am forever grateful that Mr. Niekro took time out of his day to sign a card for me," Ian writes. "He even personalized it!"

Dick Bosman, 1975 Topps

Greg Burke of Pleasanton, Calif., responded to our survey to share the story about his quest to complete the ‘75 Topps set.

The set is known for containing the rookie cards of George Brett and Robin Yount. Other valuable cards included Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt. But Burke didn’t have much trouble tracking down any of those. Rather, the elusive card was Bosman, then a starting pitcher with Cleveland.

“As the summer went by I started filling in the set but now I would have to buy even more packs to get a card I didn't have,” Burke wrote. “Doubles, triples and quadruples began mounting. ... As the teams started filling in I would get more and more excited as I opened a pack to see a new face. But before I knew it, the cards were no longer being sold in the stores. I had stacks and stacks of cards, even the weird mini cards, completed teams, all the highlights, all the league leaders, playoffs, World Series and the coolest subset that year, the MVPs. I had them all but was missing just one, and his face was on Highlight Card No. 7 -- Dick Bosman, having thrown a no-hitter in 1974. What was I going to do now? I certainly did not know card shows existed then and the supply at my local source was non-existent.

“As I pondered this over the course of the next few weeks, I walked outside one day and saw one of my periphery friends walking home with a paper grocery bag which happened to be filled with Topps 1975 Baseball Cards. He had visited a mutual friend who had given him a whole bunch of his duplicates from the year so he could start a collection of his own. I calmly asked if I could go through the bag and make a trade if I found THE one I needed. It couldn't possibly be in there having eluded me all summer long. But, the baseball card gods must have been looking down on me with pity and as I got near the bottom of the huge pile in the bag, there he was, No. 354, Dick Bosman. I couldn't believe it. I remained calm at first, handed over a small handful of triples for trade and as he continued walking home, I ran screaming into the house. My mom thought I had cut off a finger or had some other emergency. She was not too happy at first but certainly understood my excitement as I look back now. I put Mr. Bosman's card in the baseball card locker I had, and of course, in the appropriate slot for the Cleveland Indians, then sat back and marveled at my accomplishment. I cannot believe that was 45 years ago but it has always been a lasting memory.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Cory Snyder, 1987 Topps

Snyder had a pretty solid start to his career in 1986, when he finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting after belting 24 homers with a .799 OPS. Over his first three Major League seasons, the slugging outfielder hit .258/.298/.477 with 83 homers. Unfortunately for Snyder, that’s as good as it got for him, as injuries and decline in production would hamper him throughout the remaining six years of his career.

Still, this is a gem of a card submitted by our own national columnist Anthony Castrovince, with the beautiful wood grain border of the 1987 Topps set and Snyder in his ready position at third base, where he played a few games early in his career.

Castrovince, in his inimitable style, captures what Snyder meant to him as a 5-year-old boy sitting in the right-field seats at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.

“He becomes my introduction to true baseball fandom,” Castrovince wrote. “He becomes my muse and my mainstay. Though I will grow to understand he was, um, not actually very good, I won’t care. Because I will always reflect fondly on what it felt like to have that first hero, high strikeout totals and all.

“There are other baseball cards. There are other Snyder cards. Inexplicably, there is even another Snyder rookie card, from Donruss, that depicts him about to catch a ball (apparently it was a bit of a theme in 1987). But this is the card I turn to most. Do you see it now? Snyder’s glove is not outstretched in anticipation of the ball. He is there to capture my heart.”

Just a tremendous look into the baseball beginnings of a great baseball writer. -- Manny Randhawa